Aquitaine and the Hundred Year War

To a modern observer, the political geography of 12th Century Western Europe appears strange and unfamiliar.  One of the most remarkable features is the large tracts of France which were under English control, notionally tributary to the French crown but effectively governed by English nobles. 


Aquitaine - the area of the south-west Atlantic seaboard of modern France south of Bordeaux - is a case in point, its castles and fortified towns bearing witness to a turbulent history.  It had effectively become an English Possession in 1152 when Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose Father had been the last Duke and had died without a male heir, married Henry Plantagenet, the future Henry II of England following the annulment of her earlier marriage to Louis the Young, the future king of France.  Aquitaine remained an English possession until, in 1337, it was annexed by Phillip VI of France, effectively sparking what became known as the 100 Year War, the subject of countless novels, films, and now even computer games.


Edward III of England responded to the annexation of Aquitaine by asserting his right to the French throne - effectively reviving a claim made seven years earlier on the death, without an heir apparent, of Charles IV of France.  This may have been intended as a bargaining chip, but its effect was to escalate the conflict considerably.  The English used their claim to form alliances with powerful discontented local nobles, mounting significant large scale raids - or Cheveauchees - deep into French territory, notably in 1346 culminating in the Battle of Crecy and the capture of Calais, and later at Poitiers in 1356 where the French king John, Philip‘s successor, was taken prisoner and subsequently held to ransom.  With France effectively ungovernable, the English attempted an unsuccessful knock-out blow at Rheims.  When this failed, the English concluded the 1360 treaty of Bretigny by which they renounced claims to the French throne in return for a substantial ransom for King John and the ceding by the French of an enlarged Aquitaine.


By 1369, however, war resumed, ebbing and flowing through the great English victory at Agincourt in 1415 and the subsequent French successes under Joan of Arc in breaking the siege of Orleans in 1429. Although Joan was captured and subsequently executed by the English, their alliances with local warlords were beginning to crumble.  A brief truce in 1444 was followed by further bloody fighting, with the English making some gains in Normandy and Gascony, and recapturing Bordeaux before decisive defeat at Castillon in 1453 effectively ended the English presence in France for good.